By Pat Pape
ALEXANDRIA, Va.—For years, most convenience store jobs were about stocking shelves and ringing up customers, but that era has passed, according to Travis Sheetz, president and COO of the 600-plus store Sheetz chain based in Pennsylvania.
Sheetz was interviewed about those changes by Henry Armour, president and CEO of NACS, during “The Future of Work with Travis Sheetz,” a Spotlight Session included in NACS’ recent Crack the Code Experience.
Job duties are morphing, Sheetz said. Today, more labor in the average c-store is spent “on food production and less on checkout and POS. As we shift to more self-checkout and mobile transactions, labor will shift to what I call food packaging and delivering. And we’re not just delivering to people’s homes. We’re taking food out to the pickup stand or curbside or to the drive-thru window.”
As retailers enter 2021, they face a tight labor market and rising wages. Higher wages attract more productive employees, “but you have to create the efficiencies that justify the wage,” Sheetz said. “In our business, we must compete on wages with the big box retailers, but we’re competing for customers with the small box retailers. We can’t monetize the extra wages.”
Armour noted that convenience stores have long focused on transactional efficiency—getting customers in and out quickly. “Are we going to be looking for a different skill set?” he asked.
The answer is “yes” based on the Sheetz labor model, which focuses on training store employees to do everything from running the register to making food.
“That’s a little unique, and it’s not for the faint of heart,” Sheetz said. “A lot of people segment those jobs—partly because that’s easier to train. You either work in the kitchen or work up front. In our stores, you do everything, and there’s a lot of complexity. We can’t afford experts—service people, POS people, drive-thru people. The future of Sheetz is going to be more like a beehive. There will be employees going to the curb and to the drive-thru. There will be much more activity, and we need to do that to be more efficient and justify higher wages.”
When the chain began growing its foodservice program several years ago, “we started focusing on hospitality. We realized there were a lot of tasks employees were doing that were meaningless,” he said. “We established more regular and consistent schedules, which makes for a happier employee and is the right thing to do. And we changed our store manager structure. We put one manager in charge of foodservice and another in charge of hospitality. Today, when I go into a store and talk to a manager about sales, they give me their food and beverage sales—not overall store sales. That to me is the greatest indication that we’ve made strides.”
To better focus on in-store hospitality, “we changed our [candidate] assessment to find employees based more on attitude than aptitude,” he said. “[When interviewing,] we use assessments prepared by professionals to measure friendliness and qualities that have to do with personal interaction. The general philosophy is that you can’t change attitude, and we want our stores to be focused on hospitality. That’s our vision.”
Great Place to Work
Because the labor market is declining and there’s more competition for quality workers, retailers must ensure that their stores are attractive to job seekers. Sheetz has taken steps to make the company a more compelling place to work.
“We’ve moved to a seasonal schedule, so employees know when they’ll be working 90 days out.” Sheetz said. “We’re going to longer shifts, and we’ve been pushing for full-time employees. Full-time employees have longer tenure, provide better service and are better trained. Of course, we’ll always need part-time people for flexibility.”
Today’s job seekers prefer to be part of a socially responsible organization, and Armour noted that Sheetz was one of the first c-store chains to honor first responders. “Your store-level people love it,” he said. “It makes them feel like they are doing something more than just working in a store. They are helping their communities and first responders.”
Sheetz agreed. “Any way that you can show people that it’s more than just a job—that it’s a second community or a second family—is very helpful,” he said. “Those are things that drive the final decision about who to work for. We’ve been recognized as a great place to work, and that helps draw attention to the brand.”
When it comes to recruiting, Sheetz “segments” employees just as they do customers. “We want to speak to each type of employee based on their lifestyle and needs. That tells us the media that a person uses to communicate,” Sheetz said. “We still recruit at store level with signage, and in the spring, we have a recruiting event at every store. But social media has been our greatest recruitment tool, no question.”
Having a strong, consistent and constructive culture also attracts employees and encourages long tenure.
“Corporate culture starts from the ground up,” Sheetz said. “It’s how managers treat people and what the store environment is like. You measure what you treasure, and we measure it incessantly.
“The culture and the experience at store level have more to do with our brand than our advertising or anything else we do, he added. “It’s about setting the expectations when employees come in. [We let them know] this is a different place. We reward differently, treat people differently. That comes across the counter, and it either builds your brand or hurts your brand.”
The NACS Crack the Code Experience is available on demand for attendees through December 31, 2020.
Pat Pape worked in the convenience store industry for more than 20 years before a full-time writer. See more of her articles at patpape.wordpress.com.